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— 9 January 2020

Paul Dyson looks back at the events of 1870 when Yorkshire repeated its success of three years previously. The picture of George Freeman comes courtesy of Mick Pope.

In the seemingly interminable period before 1890 – when the County Championship was officially constituted – Yorkshire were deemed to have being crowned ‘champions’ on just two occasions. The first of these was in 1867 and the second in 1870 although in 1869 the county were declared ‘joint-champions’.

Yorkshire’s first match of the 1870 season was not against another county but was one which was the first of its type and which would be repeated for exactly 100 years. It is not clear how this fixture’s origins came about – there is no mention of it in Yorkshire’s minute book of the time. Apart from playing annual matches against Oxford and Cambridge Universities the Lord’s-based Club had regular games against only four southern counties although Lancashire appeared briefly from 1867 and Nottinghamshire two years later. However, Yorkshire remained on MCC’s fixture list for an early-season game and from 1875 it appeared at what became the Scarborough Festival for the first time and so the two teams met each other twice in almost every season until the various pressures took their toll after 1970.

  • This 1870 game at Lord’s was a most exciting encounter. Although MCC were dismissed for 73, Yorkshire gained a first-innings lead of only 18 and were eventually challenged to score 143 to win, WG Grace, who was often to be a thorn in Yorkshire’s side, making 66. As in the previous season George Freeman (match figures of 10 for 64) and Tom Emmett (nine for 93) were the chief destroyers for Yorkshire and although George Wootton finished with 12 victims for MCC, the visitors scraped home by one wicket. When the scoreboard was showing 94 for eight victory looked a long way away but 44 from Luke Greenwood and good support from the tail got them home by the narrowest margin possible.

    All of the remaining first-class matches in 1870 were against other counties – just three of them: Kent, Nottinghamshire and Surrey (two games against each). What, no Lancashire? The two Roses counties had met in 1867 and 1868 but not again until 1871 and, once more, it is not clear why this was so although the four games in the 1860s all resulted in very heavy defeats for the Red Rose including three by an innings.

    By 1870 there were nine counties with what became known as first-class status. In addition to the ones already mentioned the others were Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Middlesex and Sussex. There was considerable variation in the number of matches played by each county. Three counties each played only two matches against other counties but Kent played eight and Surrey no fewer than 14! Yorkshire won five and lost none of their six games and no other county came near to matching this record so if someone had to be given a title it would have to be the White Rose.

    Yorkshire’s first game of the ‘championship’ was another nail-biter. In another low-scoring game – at Trent Bridge – Yorkshire’s 108 was enough to give them a lead of 52 (the hosts’ innings including three run-outs) but 11 wickets from Nottinghamshire’s James Shaw meant that the home side’s target was 175. Although they batted much more consistenly than in their first innings they fell just short and the visitors won by a mere two runs. It was one of three debutants, Rob Clayton (match figures of eight for 74), and John West (nine for 47, including a first-innings 11.3-8-3-5) which saw off Surrey at Bramall Lane. Needing only 26 for victory the home side won by seven wickets, despite seven for 76 from James Southerton in their first innings.

    It was a similar story at Gravesend where Kent were swept aside by eight wickets. Emmett, Freeman and skipper Roger Iddison each took a five-for and Yorkshire’s first half-century of the season, from Elisha Rawlinson, helped to see them to 229 – their highest total thus far. After a scheduled gap of two days the same teams met each other at Dewsbury; although Yorkshire’s first-innings lead was only 24, Kent failed to pass 100 in either innings and the home side won by a convincing 82 runs. Once more Freeman (ten for 42) and Emmett (seven for 77) were the main wicket-takers.

    With Nottinghamshire having being the most challenging opposition thus far, it was no surprise that the return fixture at Bramall Lane should be another close encounter. The visitors posted 146 (Freeman six for 55) which Yorkshire beat by one run; Nottinghamshire set Yorkshire 142 to win and after slipping to 61 for five were glad to escape with a draw – 35 runs short of the target and with six wickets down. The season’s final game saw Yorkshire inflict another heavy defeat on Surrey, at The Oval, by 137 runs despite scoring only 114 (Southerton seven for 61) in their first innings. Iddison scored 77 second time round, otherwise the plaudits once more went to Freeman (10 for 43) and Emmett (nine for 92).

    Rawlinson ended the season as the leading run-scorer with 262 at 21.83 but the batting averages were led by Iddison with 248 at 27.55; those two were the only batsmen to make a half-century. Ephraim Lockwood also passed the 200-mark. Freeman (50 wickets at the astonishing average of 6.54) and Emmett (43, 14.58) were far and away the leading bowlers, Iddison’s 13 victims placing him a distant third in the aggregate column. Freeman led the national averages, his ten-match season producing 68 wickets at 7.11. This was also the season when George Pinder established himself as the first-choice wicket-keeper as successor to Ned Stephenson. So impressive was he that a 1995 publication chose him retrospectively as one of 1870’s ‘Five Cricketers of the Year’.

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